A lot has happened since the Detroit Lions' most recent trip to University of Phoenix Stadium, last December.
The Arizona Cardinals hired an entirely new coaching staff and enlisted a veteran quarterback to bolster the offense. The Lions, meanwhile, added a shifty new running back by the name of Reggie Bush. In last year’s meeting, Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford played poorly, and it allowed the Cardinals to break a nine-game losing streak.
My, how times have changed. The Lions are flying high off a season-opening victory against NFC North rival Minnesota, while the Cardinals are still trying to find their footing in 2013.
Cardinals reporter Josh Weinfuss and Lions reporter Michael Rothstein discuss Sunday’s matchup.
Josh Weinfuss: A lot has been made of offseason additions on both sides. How has the Lions' offense changed by adding Bush?
Michael Rothstein: It has definitely become much more dynamic. You'll see a lot more screen passes and short passes to get Bush in space and allow him to create. The perfect example came on the 77-yard screen that went for a touchdown against the Vikings. Not sure the Lions had anyone with that kind of speed out of the backfield last season. Add to that Bush's ability to run between the tackles when he needs to, and it creates another dimension for defenses to be concerned about. No longer is it pay attention to Calvin Johnson and make Detroit's other pieces find a way to win. If teams do that, Bush will force them to abandon that strategy.
Josh Weinfuss: Without a doubt. Palmer has brought not only stability to a position that's been a hurricane in the three seasons since Kurt Warner retired, but also talent. The proof of that came Sunday when Palmer and Fitzgerald connected for two touchdowns -- one on a 4-yard fade to the back left corner, the other on a 25-yard beauty that dropped into Fitzgerald's hands. Last season, Cardinals quarterbacks targeted Fitzgerald nine times in the red zone and didn't complete any. Palmer is already 2-for-3 in the red zone to Fitzgerald. Floyd also will benefit from Palmer's accuracy. With Floyd being a larger target than Fitzgerald, Palmer can get a little more creative with where he throws the ball, an issue all four Arizona quarterbacks had last season.
Let's switch sides of the ball. After his incident against the Vikings, is Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh becoming a distraction already this season?
Michael Rothstein: Distraction? No. The reason I say that is most people around the Lions have been around this situation before with Suh. If his teammates are telling the truth and indeed accepted his apology, it should be a nonissue for most in the locker room -- for now. Where it becomes a problem, perhaps, is if Suh does something like this again. It should become a distraction or an issue only if he were to be suspended in the future.
Since you asked about Suh, how does Arizona's offensive line deal with him, Nick Fairley and the rest of Detroit's deep, talented defensive line?
Josh Weinfuss: This is a different situation from Week 1, when the Cardinals focused on stopping two very strong outside rushers. With Suh and Fairley coming up the gut, Arizona will have to rely on its guards and center more -- which could be an issue, considering that right guard Paul Fanaika played in his first game in almost two years Sunday. Don't expect the Cardinals to overload the box with blockers. Palmer said he'd rather have less time to throw and more options downfield, but the Cardinals more than likely will keep a running back home to pick up that inside rush and a tight end on the outside to allow the tackle to cheat over and help the guard.
Speaking of the offense, has any team figured out how to slow down Johnson, because stopping him is unlikely -- and if anyone has slowed the stud receiver, how'd they do it?
Michael Rothstein: Kind of, Josh. Kind of. Johnson had four catches for 37 yards against Minnesota on Sunday. While he was targeted nine times -- and missed two touchdowns by not much -- the addition of Bush to the Lions' offense has taken some pressure off Johnson. When Minnesota chose to try to take away Johnson, Detroit focused on letting Bush operate. While I don't think teams will ever take Johnson out of the game while he is in his prime, it wouldn't shock me if he has some games in which Detroit looks to Bush more instead of always featuring Johnson. That, of course, just makes the Lions' offense much more difficult to stop.
I'll wrap it up with a question to you. How much is Patrick Peterson going to be involved in the offense? And can he be a true two-way player, be it this week or beyond?
Josh Weinfuss: Ideally, Peterson would play a prominent role in the offense. And the Cardinals have planned for that, installing a package specifically for him that was, at last check, 60 plays deep. They want him out there, so much so that on cut day, coach Bruce Arians said Peterson would be considered the Cardinals’ fifth receiver. But with all the hype, he played only three offensive snaps. Granted, Peterson’s involvement will always be dictated by the situation, but I think a lot of people were expecting more in Week 1. As to your second question, that’s tough to answer. Peterson is already playing nearly every down on defense and is the Cards’ primary punt returner. He’s young -- 23 in July -- so his body can handle it, but I don’t know whether there’s anyone these days getting significant time in all three facets. He’s more likely to get hurt on offense, but if he can make an impact on defense, special teams and offense, you’re looking at a potential MVP.